Sometimes less is more — at least in grant proposals. That's the hope of the DFG, Germany's main research-funding agency, which plans to drastically restrict the number of papers that researchers can list in their grant applications.

From July, someone applying for a year's funding will be able to include only two publications closely related to the proposed project and a maximum of five other papers illustrating their scientific career. The agency hopes that the new rules will help ease the burden on reviewers faced with vast publication lists, and counter the pressure on scientists to publish as many papers as possible in order to win funding or academic appointments. "It is quality, not quantity, which matters," says Matthias Kleiner, president of the DFG.

But some fear that the new rules might deprive reviewers of crucial information, particularly in fields with high publication rates, such as molecular biology. "As a reviewer I am reliant on getting all the information," says Benedikt Grothe, dean of biology at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. "And as an applicant I find it dissatisfying not to be able to cite all the papers that I think reviewers should be aware of."

The DFG — which controls an annual budget of more than €2 billion (US$2.7 billion) and funded about half of its 23,000 grant applications last year — is the first funding agency in Europe to cap citations in this way. In the United States, similar rules apply to grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF). But the DFG's plan goes a step further: it will not consider supporting papers that have been submitted to academic journals but not yet accepted for publication. The move aims to counter problems with seemingly impressive publication lists that were brought to light last year when members of a DFG-funded Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) at the University of Göttingen were reprimanded for including unfinished manuscripts in grant applications (see Nature 460, 791; 2009).